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‘King Richard’: The Best Actor Oscar Is Will Smith’s To Lose

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at January 1, 1970

Well, I guess Warner Bros. is going to have two big-deal trailers attached to Dune starting tonight. We got the second trailer for The Batman during last Saturday’s DC FanDome event, and now we have a second look at King Richard. Warner Bros. is high on this one, partially because it positions Will Smith as a frontrunner to win this year’s Best Actor Oscar. Moreover, even while Smith outside of a known brand/marquee character (be it Bad Boys for Life or Aladdin) is as much of a commercial coin toss as it is for almost any actor these days, I’d argue Will Smith *as* Richard Williams in an aspirational Williams sisters biopic might have been a solid hit in pre-Covid times and still might be one now.

The optimistic scenario is that it plays like, relatively speaking and on a Covid curve, The Blind Side ($39 million on the same pre-Thanksgiving weekend in 2009) or Wonder ($33 million likewise in 2017) and then legs out over the holiday and through early pre-tentpole December. It’ll be the big “movie-movie” at least until West Side Story on December 10. Wonder and The Blind Side (for which Sandra Bullock won an Oscar that year) opened against huge but “for fans only” tentpoles, namely The Twilight Saga: New Moon ($142 million) and Justice League ($94 million), so WB might hope that Sony’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife proves likewise.

The pull quotes on this trailer are less about “movie good” than about objective descriptions (yes, it is a triumphant story about determination and dreams) which would apply even if the picture were an artistic botch. It’s one of my longtime pet peeves, offering up pull quotes which are less subjective acclaim and more objective facts (yes, Drew Barrymore *is* Cinderella in Ever After) especially when actual positive reviews are readily available. I’d argue there’s a risk here of making the film seem like “If you dislike this movie you dislike the real people!” oatmeal, which can backfire. To be fair, “Will Smith at his best” is indeed a subjective declaration of artistic value, and a valuable one.

Right now the Best Actor Oscar is Smith’s to lose, especially as most of the other perceived frontrunners (Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog, Denzel Washington in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Andrew Garfield as the late Johnathan Larsen in Tick… Tick… Boom, etc.) are from streaming titles. Of course, being the first frontrunner of the season is a dangerous game. In the 2005 season, Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line) began the season in the lead before Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain) took the limelight only for Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) to be in front when the contenders ran out of track. Cruel/ghoulish irony, but both of those also-rans would win Oscars later for playing the Joker.

Nonetheless, the narrative of one of the world’s biggest movie stars winning an Oscar (after being nominated for Ali in 2002 and The Pursuit of Happyness in 2007) for a deeply old-school Hollywood star vehicle/studio programmer will be hard to resist. Smith has been a rock-solid actor since the days of Six Degrees of Separation and Where the Day Takes You, and his work of late (Focus, Concussion, Collateral Beauty, etc.), which seem to be meta-commentaries on his pop culture impact (Spies in Disguise, Gemini Man, Bad Boys for Life), have been fascinating to watch. I mean, if you only saw Suicide Squad, Bright and Aladdin, that’s on you.

Judas and the Black Messiah was a commercial whiff, for… circumstantially-understandable reasons, in early 2021. It earned $6.6 million worldwide alongside its concurrent (for the first 30 days) HBO Max availability. But it also was a Best Picture nominee which won Daniel Kaluuya a deserved Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, as well as the first universally-acclaimed movie offered up in the theaters/HBO Max deal. I’m hopeful that King Richard succeeds alongside Ghostbusters: Afterlife (on November 19) and Disney’s Encanto on November 24. However, if the film wins Will Smith an Oscar, it almost won’t matter (in terms of Warner Bros.’ prestige) if it’s a theatrical hit.


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